NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A downtown Brooklyn coffee vendor has been in a David-vs.-Goliath battle with the city Department of Transportation, but some powerful officials have decided to step in on his behalf.
As CBS 2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, Ahmed Khalifa has been selling coffee and breakfast treats from his cart for 16 years, but he said the DOT is trying to squeeze him out.
“He’s been here for years,” said Erle Gardner of Flatbush. “What changed?”
“You don’t have any money to pay him that day, he will turn around and let you slide – come and bring it when you got it,” said resident Belinda Lindros. “These stores aren’t going to do that.”
“There’s a lot of elderly people that he works with; sees them coming out of the Access-a-Ride car,” said Donna Thomas of the Bronx. “He knows who they are. He has their coffee ready for them.”
Khalifa’s tale started out as a story of might makes right. The DOT installed a new bike rack in the space where Khalifa had been operating, and said he would have to move.
“They just threw me out for no reason,” Khalifa said.
Actually, they had a reason. City vending regulations say carts have to be 20 feet away from a building entrance, and when the DOT installed new benches and two bike racks near 345 Adams St. in Brooklyn, the only spot they left free put the vendor 18 1/2 feet from the building.
To the city, that short distance was cause enough to force the vendor out. And the city intended to do so.
“I’m not asking to relocate a lot of stuff, just one bike rack,” Khalifa said. “That’s going to save my life and my business. I think I’m not asking for much.”
On Monday, the DOT gave Khalifa the cold shoulder. But on Tuesday, CBS 2 called Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who was appalled.
“Our first priority should be to help local businesses,” Markowitz said. “Stop nickel-and-diming.”
CBS 2 also called City Council Speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn, who has been on something of a crusade to cut fines to small businesses. She was outraged.
“This is just silly,” Quinn said. “You don’t want to put a gentleman like this out because the CitiBike rack makes him too close to the entrance of a door. This is one of those bureaucratic red tape issues that we just need to fix.”
Quinn immediately called the DOT to demand change. She wants the department either to move the bike rack or give Khalifa a waiver.
“We need to recognize that the world is not going to come to an end if this guy is a foot closer to the door than the law allows, and grant him some kind of a waiver,” Quinn said. “My office is going to make sure, one way or another we get an exception that keeps the coffee perking and keeps this wonderful gentleman working.”
After Quinn’s call, the DOT sent a team to downtown Brooklyn to meet with the vendor. A DOT spokesman said the goal is to better understand the vendor’s concerns, and “see if adjusting the racks would address them.”
Khalifa said the DOT representatives took pictures, but made no promises about what they will do.
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